17th Aug 2021 – Starbase, Texas — SpaceX has moved the Starship SN20 to the suborbital launch pad B at the Boca Chica launch site. This move is a precursor to the upcoming cryogenic test that will be performed on this Starship prototype (aka Ship 20, Starship 20, and S20 as well, give us a break SpaceX community).
The cryo-test (cryogenic pressure test) ensures if a spaceship is able to withstand in-flight atmospheric pressures and extremely low temperatures. This is achieved by simulating the in-flight conditions by filling the Starship with liquid nitrogen that has a temperature of −196 °C [−320 °F].
This is the 2nd major movement of the Starship spaceship by SpaceX after experimenting with its full stacking on the Super Heavy Booster 4 prototype rocket earlier this month. Later on, Starship 20 was destacked from the Booster 4 in preparation for the cryo and static fire tests.
Starship 20 heat shield tiles
Even before SN20 was moved to the launch site at Starbase Boca Chica, TX — SpaceX had started installing the heat shield tiles on this prototype as this is the one that will be ultimately tested for the first orbital flight.
After the successful stacking of the Starship 20, Elon Musk laid out the following four critical steps before this prototype will be ready for the cryogenic pressure tests (source tweet).
- Final heat shield tiles for ship
- Thermal protection of booster engines
- Ground propellant storage tanks
- QD arm for ship
He also mentioned that these items will be completed in 2 weeks. However, due to the unique design and curvature of some areas of the Starship SN20, some of the hexagonal heat shield tiles are still missing from the ship.
Starship SN20 possible cryogenic test schedule
However, the completion of the heat shield tiles is not a barrier in attempting a cryo or static fire test.
As Starship SN20 was mounted on the suborbital launch pad B yesterday, the Cameron County had released a road closure notice for today from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm CST.
The county judge also had secondary dates of 19th and 20th August as a backup plan for closure of Highway 4. This indicated that the Starship 20 cryogenic test would possibly be held in these dates. But just as I write this post, the Cameron County has canceled all these dates for a possible road closure (source: Cameron County website).
This indicates that SpaceX might need some more time to complete the pre-cryo-test procedures and the date of the test has moved further from 20th August.